Sunday, April 4, 2010

I'm Stuck on Sticky Rice

I loved sticky rice well before I ever stepped foot in Thailand or Laos. My husband has a good friend who owns a tiny, funky Thai restaurant in one of the, a-hem, "grittier" neighborhoods of Oakland called the Old Weang Ping Village. The restaurant has a devoted cult following. Patrons generally have to call ahead to announce their arrival in order to get past the security cameras at the iron-gated and dead-bolted entrance. But once inside, you are immediately transported to Thailand - not only in the restaurant's kitschy decor, but Pat and his wife, Jook's, incredible hospitality and phenomenal Northern Thai-style food.

When my dear husband introduced me to Pat and Jook and their gem of a restaurant more than a decade ago, he also introduced me to what would become one of my biggest culinary obsessions: sticky rice. The first time I had sticky rice at the Weang Ping, and still, every time subsequently, I stuff myself silly as though I there might not ever be another grain of sticky rice in my future. To say that I like it is a complete understatement.

Sticky rice is often served in Northern Thailand alongside a meal (elsewhere in the country, you see it mainly only as a dessert with fresh mango). In Laos, however, sticky rice is a staple. It is served at every meal; most Lao people have it for breakfast dipped in spicy chili paste, and as an accompaniment to every other soup, curry and grilled dish eaten throughout the day. In fact, in the poor country of Laos, oftentimes sticky rice is the only thing a person might eat all day long (yes - malnutrition is rampant). But while there, I was in heaven. I ate sticky rice like a local - meaning at every opportunity and damn near at every meal.

Needless to say, I came home with a sticky rice steamer contraption and a serving basket in tow. I am now able to feed my sticky rice obsession on a whim.

A couple things to note if you want to venture down the sticky rice-making road:
  • Sticky rice requires a short-grained "sweet" rice variety; it's got a high level of starch, resulting in the fabulous sticky quality that makes it so unique.
  • You have to soak the sweet rice ahead of time - I usually give mine a good 24-hour soak to soften it up and allow it to absorb a good amount of water.
  • You have to steam the rice to achieve the sticky texture. Some people claim you can make it stove top or in a rice cooker, but I have never had good success with either of those methods. The cone-shaped steamer thingy exists for a reason.
Other than that, there's really no recipe - you just steam it and eat it. Serve it up in a bamboo basket, eat it with your fingers, and use it to scoop up food on your plate or sop up sauce from a curry (like us Westerners use bread). And although I enjoy it plain, all by itself, my husband is a fan of having his sticky rice with "all the sauces." When we're at the Weang Ping, he'll have Pat bring out every sauce that exists in the kitchen so that he can use it for dipping. We've kind of narrowed it down to three different sauces that we eat with our sticky rice at home, however: peanut sauce, garlic/chili sauce (both of which I generally just purchase commercially rather than make from scratch), and my favorite, a verdant lime/cilantro sauce that just bursts with fresh flavor. The sauce is amazing not only with the sticky rice, but as a great topping for grilled meats.

So even if you don't make the sticky rice (foolish...), I encourage you to give this cilantro sauce a try. Spread it atop a grilled chicken breast or a juicy steak - delish.

Lime/Cilantro Sauce
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed (optional)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems
  • The juice of 1 fresh-squeezed lime
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Throw all ingredients in a food processor, blend until combined.


  1. Hey! I'm all aboput sticky mango rice! So i have decided to make it for a huge family reunion (all Mexicans so I'll introduce them to Thai desserts!) Do you recommed any palce to get a big bamboo steamer around SF, East Bay...I really don't want to spend a lot on a big fancy all purpose steamer, and specially after reading your experiments with them and your recommendation about using the bamboo one!


  2. Hey Andrea! I would certainly try Ranch 99 in Richmond first - that place has everything!